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‘Lunatic’ lying driver jailed

‘Lunatic’ lying driver jailed
Killer driver Anthony Alexander Thomas. Photo George Heard/NZME

Ashburton farmer who killed cyclist in ‘appalling’ high speed hit-and-run then lied to police sentenced

A killer driver who lied to police about a fatal crash - claiming his car had been stolen and he had no idea what happened when he was the one behind the wheel - has been blasted by a judge for his “lunatic” actions and sent to prison.

Anthony Alexander Thomas, 30, later told police he was a passenger in the car that struck cyclist Sean William Russell Innes on Linwood Ave in Christchurch in September.

As a result, a 44-year-old Ashburton man was then charged with the hit-and-run.

But after Innes died in hospital two weeks later Thomas became “overcome with guilt” and owned up to being behind the wheel at the time of the fatal incident.

Thomas, 30, later pleaded guilty to driving dangerously causing death and failing to stop and ascertain injury; and a charge of conspiring to defeat the course of justice.

He was sentenced today in the Christchurch District Court by Judge Kevin Phillips.

The hearing opened a Victim Impact Statement from Innes’ mother Kerry.

She said her only son was her best friend and they had “a lifetime of being there” for each other.

“He was the biggest support in my life and his loss has left a hole so big I still can’t go near it,” she said.

“He was a hard worker who put his back into anything he did 200 per cent and he was the one who was going to look after me when I got old.

“I feel full of pain, agony, desolation.”

She said his son “absolutely worshipped” his 8-year-old daughter.

“Now he lost all of that,” she told the court.

“Six months on I feel numb, empty... grief has killed my feelings.

“You killed my son... and nothing the court gives as a sentence can bring him back.”

The Crown said aggravating factors of the offending were Thomas’ “persistent” efforts to avoid responsibility and his horrendous driving and actions after the impact with Innes.

Thomas had also admitted to drinking alcohol before the fatal collision - though he had not been charged with excess breath alcohol.

The court heard that a restorative justice meeting had been held between Thomas and Innes’ family that was beneficial.

Thomas’ lawyer said nothing the man could say or do would make up for the loss of life.

“If he could turn back time he would,” he said.

Thomas’ partner, family and employer were all in court to support him.

“He had a sad upbringing... good character development didn’t occur and had there been more oversight and nurturing the chances of him doing what he did on the day would have lessened,” the lawyer said.

“He witnessed domestic violence growing up, he was in foster homes, his father was an alcoholic and was in jail.”

It was argued that Thomas was remorseful and had “done the right thing” eventually and prison was not needed to punish him.

He had a good job and work ethic and good support and could “build a better life for himself and contribute to society” if he remained in the community.

It was suggested a sentence of home detention for 24 months would be more appropriate.

“It’s not an easy sentence,” his lawyer told the court.

“The fact that he will, for the rest of his life, know that someone died while he was behind the wheel is significant... he has reiterated the strain of knowing that it has occurred while he was behind the wheel.”

Judge Phillips said it would be “highly unusual” for someone on such a charge to avoid a term of imprisonment.

He said the night of the killing Thomas was engaging in “persistent high-level dangerous driving”.

“He was driving in a way that sooner or later he was going to kill someone - and he did,” he said.

“He was driving at 100km/h... just waiting for someone to get in the way and he killed them.”

Judge Phillips said Thomas’ offending was serious.

He noted Innes’ mother had a “solid belief” that the killer should not go to prison, and that she supported a community sentence.

“Her view is but one view and it is not determinative... but it is a matter I take into account,” he said.

He acknowledged that Thomas had participated in the Restorative Justice meeting with Innes’ family but that was simply not enough to reduce the damage he had caused.

“At the time of this tragedy, you showed no remorse at all,” Judge Phillips said.

He said Thomas had a number of previous convictions of “very bad driving” including high excess breath alcohol, failing to stop after an accident, and unlicensed driving.

The Summary of Facts was earlier provided to the Herald.

‘Extreme danger to all road users’

The document revealed that Thomas and the other man - recently release from prison - were travelling from Ashburton to Christchurch around 3pm on September 13.

Thomas was driving and his co-accused was in the passenger seat as the car turned onto

Linwood Ave, which was busy with traffic at the time.

As he approached stationary traffic at the intersection of Linwood Ave and Buckleys Rd.

Thomas drove along the left-hand shoulder of the road, designated for cyclists.

He was driving at least 73km/h at the time.

Innes, who was cycling, was struck from behind and forced up onto the car’s bonnet before being thrown onto the road.

Thomas made no attempt to slow down or stop following the collision. Instead, he completed a left turn and fled the scene.

A short distance from the crash site, Thomas pulled over and swapped seats with his co-accused, the summary stated.

The man then drove the car towards Burwood, having to steer while looking out the window due to the windscreen damage.

The Subaru also had damage to its front bumper, headlights, and its front and rear driver’s side tyres were deflated.

Following the crash, witnesses reported seeing the vehicle travelling “significantly faster” than the posted 50km/h speed limit and told police it had crossed onto the wrong side of the road, causing other motorists to swerve out of the way.

Thomas and his co-accused parked the vehicle in the residential red zone before fleeing across abandoned land and swimming across Horseshoe Lake in Burwood.

Later that evening, Thomas called the police and reported his vehicle as stolen, claiming he had woken up to find it missing.

His co-accused took over the phone call and told police that he was in fact the driver at the time and was responsible for the crash.

He said he was drunk and hit someone before dumping the vehicle and that Thomas didn’t know anything about it.

Thomas agreed with this and his co-accused was taken into custody.

But after hearing Innes had died as a result of the crash, Thomas became “distraught” and with the encouragement of his boss, came clean to police and was arrested and charged.

Judge Phillips described Thomas’ driving on the night as “lunatic” and suggested his comments about wanting to go back and check on the cyclist and being “too scared” were not true.

“Whether at the time you were in genuine shock and remorse is up for debate,” he said.

“I question it.”

Thomas had also “laid partial blame” on Innes for being on the road when he was hit.

‘I reject that suggestion there was any fault on his part,” the judge said.

‘Appalling’ driver sentenced

Judge Thomas had “poor compliance” with community-based sentences in the past a shocking history of recidivist driving offending.

And on the night Innes died Thomas’ driving was “aggressive”, “persistent”, “excessive” and “appalling”.

“You were travelling at such a high speed that even if you did see the cyclist, you wouldn’t have been able to stop anyway... you were intent on doing what you were doing... high speed, to hell with everybody else.”

Judge Phillips said any sentence other than prison would be appropriate.

“I have a duty to denounce this, I have a duty to deter others from driving in a similar fashion, I have a duty to bring home to people driving on our roads that they have a duty to protect people’s lives,” he said.

“If I said home detention would be appropriate I would not be carrying out that function - what happened that day was an unfolding tragedy and it was sure to have tragic circumstances.

“In my view, it was high-end dangerous and as a result, your victim died.

“I have to give the grossly excessive speed... the aggressive driving a high degree of weight.

“And it’s all aggravated by the fact that you failed to stop.”

Judge Phillips sentenced Thomas to a total of two years and five months in jail.